Then, two thoughts occurred to me: Being 30 years old, fairly well-read, and having lived in Georgia all of my life, it was odd that 1) I, myself, had never visited a slave plantation and 2) I didn't even know the name of a slave plantation.
Since I live smack dab in the peachy pit of slavery, as opposed to, say, Minnesota or Hawaii, I figured it should be no problem for me to find a relatively local one to visit. I mean, there's the major slave port in Savannah, horizon after horizon of cotton, and the fact that, in terms of land area, this is the largest state east of the Mississippi River. Surely, between all of this history and square acreage, I should be able to roll out of bed and timewarp to 19th century slave life, right?
Since my own knowledge failed me, the first place I looked was my friendly neighborhood search engine, Google. I searched for 'georgia slave plantations', which gave me over 58,000 entries, page after page on the history of slave plantations in Georgia - no places to visit. Useless.
So next, I added the word 'tourism' to the search and, voi la!, the first thing that popped up was:
Georgia State Parks - Jarrell Plantation Historic Site
My first thought, Never heard of it. But I was excited nonetheless. So, I double-clicked and eagerly read about what would be my chance to view a slave plantation through my character, Kenya's, eyes.
Nestled in the red clay hills of Georgia, this cotton plantation was owned by a single family for more than 140 years. It survived Gen. Sherman's March to the Sea, typhoid fever, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the cotton boll weevil, the advent of steam power and a transition from farming to forestry.
In 1847, John Fitz Jarrell built a simple heart pine house typical of most plantations and made many of the furnishings visitors see today. In 1860, the 600 acre plantation was farmed by 39 slaves....
Now that I'd found one, I wanted to know them all! This led me to the metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce site. I gave them a ring:
"Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, how may I direct your call?"
"I'm interested in visiting a slave plantation, and I was wondering if you could give me any recommendations."
"One moment while I direct your call."
As I was on hold, something troubled me about the exchange. Was I too direct? I felt like I should be phrasing my request with more sensitivity or reverence. I was asking for recommendations on visiting slave plantations, after all - not good places to get pulled pork.
"Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, how may I help you?"
"Yes, I live in Atlanta and I was wondering if you have a list of slave plantations that I could tour within, say, an hour or two of the city."
There, more words, more... reverence?
"Hold one moment while I search for you."
After about 2 minutes on hold, the operator said, "I'm sorry this is taking so long, my system is very slow today."
I must admit that I did not expect this. I expected that the Chamber of Commerce would be swimming in the names of plantations. I figured that it would be like asking about where to find peaches, , where I could find an all-White country club, or where I could find Margaret Mitchell's dead body
Finally, the operator came back. "I'm not finding anything," she said.
"What?" I said, before I knew it.
"Oh, I'm sorry, here we go."
"There's Jarrell Plantation in Juliette, Indian Creek Plantation in Dawsonville... Barksdale Bobwhite Plantation in Cochran..." and, over the course of about 5 minutes, she gave me the names of over 15 plantations. But why the prolonged searching? It seemed like there should be something ready-made - a pamphlet, a brochure. I mean, slavery accounts for over a century of Georgia state history. Or maybe I was just being too particular.
So, next I whittled down the list to sites within 2 hours of Atlanta. Then, I googled each location to whittle a little more. Several of the plantations featured coons and foxes as hunting destinations. After narrowing the list down to 5, I decided to dial up Jarrell Plantation. That would be, back to Square One:
After about 10 rings, a woman lowly answered, "Hellooooo..." I think I woke her up.
"Yes, is this Jarrell Plantation?"
"Yes... it is."
"Yes, well I'm calling because I'd like to visit a slave plantation, and I see on your web-site that you have a museum. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about your... uh, the plantation."
"Well, what would you like to know?"
I would say that this is like pulling teeth. But it just occurred to me that she might not have any.
"Well, I've lived in Georgia all of my life and, today, it occurred to me that I'd never visited a slave plantation. So, I received your name from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. I'd like to know what I can expect to see if I come visit."
"Oh. Well, we have the master, John Fitz Jarrell's house, which was built in 1847. It is in good condition and... still intact. It also contains several pieces of furniture from the period, which are likewise in good condition and... still intact. Additionally, after John Fitz Jarrell passed, his son, Dick Jarrell built a sawmill, a cotton gin, a barn, and outbuildings which are all... still intact-"
As she rambled on reading what sounded like notes from the website, my mind became rather... not intact. It was wandering. Suddenly I had flashbacks of my 7th grade class trip to the Cyclorama, a panoramic Civil War painting, conspicuously absent of Black people. Which is to say, this trip to a slave plantation was becoming less exciting by the second.
"Where will you be coming from?" I heard a voice say through the phone.
"Well, I should probably tell you," she began, "that we don't have any slave cabins."
"Before you get in your car and drive all the way down here, I thought I should tell you-"
A slave plantation with no.... slave cabins? Perhaps I'd been presumptuous, but what good is visiting a slave plantation if you can't observe the life of slaves? This was what I had been looking for and didn't even know it. This was not a wasted call, after all.
"So," I asked, "do you know of any places in Georgia that do have slave cabins?"
My heart dropped.
"Well, yes, I- I-... There is one, I think, down near Savannah-"
"Do you know the name of the plantation in Savannah?"
"It's, oh... I can't recall right now, but if you're in Atlanta, you may want to try the Atlanta History Center. I'm sure they should have the name-"
Are you a part of some conspiracy, Mistress of Disinformation?
I can't recall how it ended because I think I started dialing before I even hung the phone up.